Regeneron: a global leader in biotech innovation
Bringing hope with new blockbuster drugs that are changing lives
How does a biotechnology firm become a global leader, with multiple medications on the market and a solid reputation for innovative solutions that help it break through bottlenecks in drug development?
By doing great science. By innovating the process, including creating its own way of genetic engineering, and relentlessly pursuing a philosophy of “doing well by doing good.”
Regeneron, founded in 1988 by Dr. Leonard Schleifer, M.D., Ph.D., is unlike most other biopharmaceutical firms. It’s known for a “think tank” approach that brings researchers together in marathon brainstorms that often lead to new techniques or medical treatments.
They currently have one blockbuster drug on the market: Eylea® (aflibercept) Injection, a treatment for age-related macular degeneration. And last year, its promising new cholesterol fighter, Praluent® (alirocumab) Injection, received FDA approval for the treatment of certain forms of high cholesterol and is expected to be a game-changer for patients.
In 2015, while visiting the company’s newly expanded facilities in Tarrytown, Governor Andrew Cuomo was moved by the personal stories shared by Regeneron patients attending the event. The patients discussed their battles with illness and thanked the thousands of employees in attendance for their tireless dedication to science. Schleifer says that’s what Regeneron has always been about: “Our success depends entirely on the efforts of our employees,” he says. “We have always tried to make sure that our employees know that our mission is to use science to improve the lives of patients and to provide a work environment that is conducive to achieving that goal.”
Building a company while changing the industry
It’s a long way from the company’s initial development. Schleifer was a 35-year-old neurologist and assistant professor at Cornell University when he saw the promise of the emerging biotech industry. He wanted to use science to regenerate nerve cells so that he could treat illnesses like Lou Gehrig’s disease.
He had an informal – and highly successful – meeting with a potential investor, and Regeneron was formed. The most important addition to the team was Dr. George Yancopoulos, a biomedical researcher whom Schleifer credits as the scientist behind the company’s breakthroughs. They set out to change the way that drugs were developed and have been leading Regeneron together for nearly 30 years.
Regeneron’s first major milestone came in 2008 when its drug, Arcalyst® (rilonacept), was approved for a very rare inflammatory disease. Then, in 2011, Eylea was granted regulatory approval for wet age-related macular degeneration and the company began growing dramatically.
Today, Regeneron boasts revenues of $4.1 billion and employs more than 5,000 people worldwide, with the vast majority located in New York State at its two locations – the corporate headquarters in Tarrytown and manufacturing facility in East Greenbush. Over the past five years, the company has experienced phenomenal growth, with revenues increasing 900 percent while its stock price has climbed from around $40 per share to approximately $400 a share during the same period.
A business environment that helped spur success
Starting any business is a challenge. Starting one based on a field of science that is constantly evolving is beyond challenging. However, as a born and bred New Yorker from Queens, Schleifer knew that the state afforded access to everything the company would need.
“New York State had exactly what we needed as a new company – access to major research institutions, top talent, a quality of life second to none, great schools, international airports, major roadways – you name it,” says Schleifer. “New York City is the greatest city in the world, and we knew proximity to it would help us as we continued to expand and grow over the years.”
He credits the state with contributing to that success by helping the company navigate everything from local zoning and state approval processes to infrastructure improvements. “The state has been a great partner, and that has helped us get to where we are today,” says Schleifer.
Regeneron has also taken advantage of the state’s high-quality academic institutions, partnering with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University at Albany, Columbia University and Cornell University, among others, on research, internships, and recruiting.
Adding to the company’s success is its location in the picturesque Mid-Hudson region. “The amenities are here,” says Schleifer. “The walkable communities and the quality of life, from the public schools to the higher educational institutions, the parks, the culture … the history and beauty of the Mid-Hudson region are all right here.”
All of which contributes to Regeneron being listed in the 100 Best Companies to Work For by FORTUNE for the second consecutive year, and being ranked the No. 1 or No. 2 employer in the global biopharmaceutical industry in Science magazine’s Top Employers Survey for the last six years. The company also created “Regeneron in the Community” to allow employees to give back to the places in which they live and work. In 2015 alone, employees contributed over 2,118 volunteer hours, which impacted more than 66 local not-for-profit organizations. Regeneron also supported an additional 600 organizations through their matching gifts program.
At a recent company event Schleifer recounted how former Governor Mario Cuomo was an early believer in the company and an important part of its successful start. “We received our first incentives under the Mario Cuomo administration and continue to have a great relationship today. Empire State Development is a tremendous resource; they really are strategic problem solvers who want to see businesses grow and succeed,” Schleifer says.
Schleifer has served six years as the co-chairman of the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council, helping businesses in the region grow and develop, and says the experience proves to him that the state is committed to creating an appealing business environment.
“I can say that New York State understands that innovation is critical,” he says. “Each year we prioritize projects throughout the state that focus on the future of innovation. Whether its technology, cyber security, scientific advances or any number of other crucial industries we have here – New York State understands the need for support and advancement of science and technology that can improve our world.”